As part of the Horniman Collecting Initiative, Gorby Jandu aims to gather turbans from the Sikh diaspora. In his previous update, he gave us an introduction to this religio-cultural item of clothing, and now returns to report on his fieldwork experiences.
In a recent field trip to Punjab, India, I spent two weeks looking at the material culture associated with the turban in the daily lives of Sikhs in rural areas of Northern India.
Seechewal, located some 50 kms Southwest of the city of Jalandhar was the location of this particular ethnographic study. The Parish town and its closely knit hamlet villages have a population of about 800 people, a number decreasing as younger people go overseas to find work, leaving behind a majority of elderly people, children and women.
The annual trips the men make back to the town normally coincides with significant lifecycle events such as births, deaths or marriages. If not then the trip coincides with vaisakhi – the harvest festival, an annual highlight of the Sikh calendar and a time of song, dance and of course, lots of food.
The research took in the daily routines of the few remaining male farmers who work on large tracts of verdant landscape in this semi-rural set town that supplies the raw commodities of milk and seed. These are sent to the city’s factories for processing into finished goods like paneer, a local cottage cheese used in luxury food dishes, and roti, the staple chapatti foodstuff eaten everywhere.
Whilst there, the research also happily coincided with a wedding taking place in the family of the town’s administrator-general (traditionally called sarpanch). This was a matter of high-importance as his son was marrying the daughter of the neighbouring village’s sarpanch! The wedding lasted a week, during which all non-essential activities in many villages around the town were ceased, the village the sarpanch was from sent their cows to a neighbouring farmer during the wedding as they would be too busy to milk them for the duration of the family’s wedding celebrations – all two weeks of them!
This is a picture of the groom, Ranjit, 24 years of age.
The bulk of the research took place around the lifestyles of the land-working class, such as that of Harinder’s family: he is pictured below taking a dip in what he jokingly called a ‘Punjabi swimming pool’. It is in fact a open water pump tank, called a khua in Punjabi. The khua itself has an iconic status in Punjabi folklore and is romantically linked to a place the famous forbidden lovers Sohni and Mehival and many after them met. It is more likely that the scarcity of water in Punjab before the Green Revolution contributed to its high regard in a region that is considered to be India’s breadbasket.
The town operates a traditional occupation caste system that meant that Harinder and his family have worked the same plots of land for over four generations. Harinder, now 24 years of age, is a self-employed carpenter in Dubai who only helps with land-tending when free. He has no wish to continue the family tradition and is hoping to be able to purchase the land that his family’s homestead stands on.
Harinder’s situation and many like them all over East Punjab are interesting examples of the changes that were conceptualised by Emile Durkheim, the 19th Century sociologist, about the changes that societies like these that transform from mechanical to organic solidarity.